The last few months of 2017 were a little rough for me. In October, I got an overly persistent bad chest cold. For three weeks, I was not in good shape. I was overworked and running on empty.
Eventually I started to feel physically better but work was relentless. I had my yearly gynecological exam scheduled as well as my annual eye exam on one particular day in November, and I thought, there is no way I can do these appointments. I have to work. I have deadlines, the project is behind, and I have to help. There was no way I could afford to lose a workday at this point. The only thing I thought I could do was cancel my appointments. I’d find another time to do these appointments.
Except for one thing. Over the last few months, I was also experiencing a new kind of pain in my left breast. At first, I wrote it off as a symptom of my monthly cycle. But this pain was different, not the same as before and it was new. I knew I couldn’t skip this doctor’s appointment but I didn’t know how to make it work. My stress level was high.
Then two things happened:
- I realized that my wellbeing was more important than worrying that someone else will be mad at me.
- I said no to a client.
You’d think I learned something from those a-has and then from that point on took great care of myself. Well, sort of but not quite. I kept my gyno appointment but I cancelled my eye appointment. My eyes can wait, because, you know, work.
I went to my appointment right before Thanksgiving, had a lovely Thanksgiving with my family, and then left for a relaxing vacation in Mexico. Surely, all this would ease my stress. A sunny beach getaway is self-care, right?
It is one type of self-care, that’s true. But there is more to self-care than massages, beach vacations, and a nice cup of tea. Even still, there I was enjoying my carefree vacation when it was interrupted by a call from my doctor. I needed to have a test for cervical cancer. Huh, what? Ok, so she didn’t really say cervical cancer, she went on and on about some testing for abnormal cells on the cervix, blah, blah, blah. So much for my relaxing vacation.
I was already on alert because at said-gyno-appointment, my doctor wrote up an order for me to have a diagnostic mammogram and a breast ultrasound. When I told her I had my annual mammogram scheduled already for February, she said, “You need to do it sooner rather than later.” I have a history of breast cancer in my family so I knew where she was coming from. Ok, test scheduled for the week after I get back from my trip. And now I had to deal with this new potentially scary (or not) issue.
Once I got back from my trip through January, I dealt with the tests, doctor’s appointments, and health insurance. My mantra became: My health is my priority. And while work had slowed down, I still had work to do. The difference now was that I didn’t work around work. I worked my work around my health. Anything to do with my health became the priority. My mantra defined every decision I made. And it was great. It helped me get through my health concerns.
So here it is the middle of January, all is well—everything checked out ok—but I realized I needed something more. I didn’t want to “get through” something. I wanted self-care to be a regular part of my life. So taking a cue from Melinda Gates, instead of resolutions, I picked a word to guide my year: self-care. As Gates noted, “I’ve found this to be more successful than setting a more traditional resolution because instead of prompting a radical change in behavior, it encourages a gradual change in mindset.” This makes sense to me. If I’m really going to take self-care head on, then it’s going to take more than a goal to make any lasting impact—I need a new point of view, a change in my mindset. So I am putting self-care into practice in 2018.
And self-care can look like a lot of different things. I’m pretty good at doing things I enjoy like the massages, a relaxing vacation, or that nice cup of tea. It’s the not-so-fun things that I struggle with. Sometimes self-care is doing the things you might not necessarily want to do or that are easy to do, like taking time to pay your bills and balance your checkbook instead of going out shopping with a friend or asking for more money on a project because you value yourself.
Self-care is meeting your own needs, whatever those may be. And it’s living your life as best you can in a way that is in integrity with who you are and who you want to be. It’s about living a life that feels good to you.
(Image found here.)